Matt Kenseth comes out of retirement to replace Kyle Larson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth will again come out of retirement to compete for Chip Ganassi Racing as the replacement for fired driver Kyle Larson.

Larson lost his job two weeks ago after using a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual race. Although Ganassi development driver Ross Chastain was assumed to be the leading contender to replace Larson in the No. 42 Chevrolet, the team instead announced Monday it will go with the two-time Daytona 500 winner.

"I think Matt gives us the best chance to win, run up front and compete for wins," Ganassi told The Associated Press. "I've always gone with the mantra of trying to take the best driver available, and he's the best driver available right now. And he brings something to our sponsors that they need right now. Stability. No baggage. Family man. Daytona 500 winner. Championship winner."

Kenseth, 48, is in a class of drivers that includes Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and David Pearson as the only competitors to win a Cup Series championship, rookie of the year award and the Daytona 500.

NASCAR announced Tuesday it has granted a waiver to make Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, eligible to race for the title this season, should he win a race and be in the top 30 in points, or qualify via points if 16 drivers don't make the field via victories. NASCAR completed just four of its 36 races before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenseth retired from Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2017 season but came back for 15 races to drive for Roush Fenway Racing, his original team, in 2018.

He was Cup Rookie of the Year in 2000 driving for Roush, where he won his only championship. He has 39 career victories and won the Daytona 500 in 2009 and 2012.

Kenseth joined Gibbs in 2013 and was an immediate title contender. He qualified for the playoffs -- which began the year after he won the Cup title without winning a race -- in every season he was eligible but one.

Kenseth won 15 races in five full seasons driving for Gibbs and was runner-up for the title in 2013, the year he won seven races.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.